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Authors: Kate Long

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BOOK: Queen Mum
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I often find myself wishing someone would tell me what the rules are for bereavement.

So we had sex, then Tom turned the light out, and then he suddenly asked about Kim. ‘How did your lunch thing go?’

I hadn’t reported it in any detail because I thought it would make him cross. ‘All right,’ I said cautiously into the darkness. ‘I told you, she seems OK.’


‘She comes over as quite warm.’ I hesitated, remembering her smile, her hair flick. ‘A no-nonsense sort, that’s how she likes to present herself. But I get this feeling
about her, that there’s more going on. I felt slightly . . . probed. Manipulated. No, that’s too strong a word. I wasn’t there long enough to tell. You can’t know someone in
an hour, can you? And yet. I’d say there was a hardness under all the friendly chat. I think she’s putting on a front.’

‘Don’t we all.’

Next door’s outside light lit up the edge of our curtains and I thought, I bet that’s Kim having a fag on the doorstep.

‘Let’s face it,’ said Tom, ‘you were never going to clasp her to your bosom.’

Mov, I thought. What was Mov? I said, ‘I just hope she’s not going to upset Juno when she gets back.’

‘Bit late to think of that now, isn’t it?’ said Tom.


– I only asked if we could have the TV off while we ate. I’m not a snob, I just think too much TV makes you passive, that’s all.


I’d only just got back in from work when the phone rang. I’d made myself a drink and was pulling wet sheets out of the washing machine, so I wasn’t best


‘It’s Mr Tate here.’

Ben’s headmaster. My breath caught in my throat.

‘Am I speaking to Mrs Weaver? Ben Weaver’s mother?’


‘I wonder if you could come along now to the school and have a word.’

‘Is he all right?’

‘I’d say he was, although he’ll have a few bruises. I’m afraid he’s been fighting.’

Fighting? Ben? ‘But is he hurt?’

‘Only superficially. We stopped them before it got too serious. He has bitten another boy, though, and I’m concerned that it might be a nasty wound; the lad’s been run up to A
and E, in fact. So it’s quite important that you get here as soon as you can and we talk this through. Ben’s waiting in reception.’

This time I did call Tom. More than my life was worth not to. ‘Fuck,’ he said. Then: ‘Don’t go overreacting, will you? Get there and just hear the story. I’ll be
with you as soon as I can.’

I quite liked Mr Tate. He brought Ben into his office straight away and sat him down opposite me, so we were all three in a triangle. Mr Tate had the advantage of a desk, mind.

‘Do you want to tell your mum what happened, Ben?’

I’ll say this for Ben, he doesn’t usually lie. He doesn’t say much, but what comes out tends to be the truth.

‘Patrick Neale’s been calling me names,’ he said without looking up. ‘He’s been hassling me for weeks. He’s been leaving notes in my locker. Today he left
some rubbish.’

‘What do you mean, rubbish?’

Mr Tate said, ‘Patrick hung a tampon from Ben’s locker handle.’

‘Oh, God.’ No wonder Ben bit him, I wanted to say. Christ! Little git. ‘That’s horrible.’

‘A clean one, I should add. But yes, it is a horrible thing to do’

Ben drooped in his chair.

‘Why would he do that? What’s his quarrel with you?’

Ben shook his head. ‘I don’t know. It was someone else last year. This year it’s me. I’m the victim of choice.’

‘Not such a victim,’ said Mr Tate. ‘That was a nasty injury you gave Patrick. We take that kind of violence very seriously in this school.’

‘What’s he been calling you? Have you kept any of these notes?’

Ben sighed. ‘No, Mum.’

‘Why not? You could have shown them to Mr Tate.’ I turned to the head, wishing Tom would hurry up and make an appearance. ‘Because, look, if Ben’s been provoked, I mean
he’s not the sort to lash out on a whim; if he’s been
’ – this was the right tone, I’d got it now – ‘to repeated bullying, to systematic
abuse from a boy who’s
to have picked on others, I’d say he was probably acting in self-defence. In fact, what anti-bullying procedures do you have in place here?
It’s all very well saying he should have gone to a member of staff, that’s what teachers always say, but we both know that isn’t always practical.’ I’d run out of
steam. I sat back in my chair, heart racing.

Mr Tate leaned forward as if he were imparting a confidence. ‘Mrs Weaver, let me tell you now I do believe Ben, even in the absence of the notes. He says they were abusive and I’m
sure he was right.’

‘But what did they say?’

Mr Tate stood up. ‘Ben, can I ask you to wait outside for a minute?’

Ben stood up at once and made swiftly for the door. As soon as we were on our own, Mr Tate said, ‘When boys get to a certain age, they can become very fearful. Very insecure. You think
what society throws at them, some of the images they see in the media.’

I was nodding, but I didn’t get it.

‘And one of the ways in which this general fear can manifest itself is, I regret to say, homophobia. Which is what’s been going on here. Patrick’s been calling Ben gay, and
putting notes to that effect in his bag and under his locker door, and he wrote something in the boys’ toilets too which I saw and I’ve had cleaned off.’

‘But a tampon? Why would they think gay men used tampons?’

‘There’s no logic in it,’ sighed the head. ‘It’s fear, ignorance. And confusion about themselves, their own sexuality. Calling someone gay is the stock insult of
the adolescent boy.’

‘Ben isn’t even effeminate. There’s nothing about him that would suggest—’ I stopped short.

‘Mrs Weaver, it makes no odds. I’m sure Patrick doesn’t believe his own accusations, it’s just something he knows will wound. Look, I heard one of the Year Eights say a
PlayStation game was gay. It’s becoming almost a meaningless adjective.’

Not meaningless to me.

Do you think he is? I wanted to ask Mr Tate. What can I do about it? Is it my fault? Mr Tate, I was on the computer the other night and I found—

There was a knock on the door and Tom walked in. I could have run up and hugged him.

‘Ben’s being bullied and he’s bitten a boy in self-defence,’ I gabbled as the head leaned over to shake Tom’s hand. Tom pulled the other chair next to me and sat
down. He reached across and touched my forearm. ‘It’s OK, I’ll take it from here,’ he said.

I ached to phone Juno. ‘He’s been suspended,’ I’d say. ‘Can you believe it, our mild-mannered Ben. One more incident and he’ll be in a
serious mess. I don’t know what’s going wrong.’ Juno would say something like, ‘Don’t worry so much. He’s got an excellent track record so far. His
teachers’ll understand these are only blips. Anyway, that bully sounds as if he got what he deserved. They probably want to give him a Merit Mark for it but they can’t for fear of
setting a precedent – you know, Speech Day, visiting dignitary awarding the Silver Molars Cup for Biting Wrongdoers – it wouldn’t look good.’

Tom was brilliant with the head. I went outside and sat in reception with Ben, the secretary ignoring both of us. I don’t suppose she can get involved. I bought Ben a Twix from the machine
by the door because I didn’t know what to say that wouldn’t make it worse. ‘Thanks,’ he said, but he didn’t eat it.

Then we drove home. Ben disappeared upstairs and Tom poured us a glass of brandy each which we drank in the kitchen. I waited for him to ask whether I thought Ben was gay, but he didn’t.
He seemed somehow pleased.

‘What are you going to say to him?’ I asked eventually.

‘I thought you could go and have a talk with him. You’re good at that sort of thing. I sorted out Tate for you.’

‘Are you cross?’

‘Who with?’


Tom finished his brandy at a gulp. ‘No way. I thought the boy done good. This Patrick’ll think twice before he picks on Ben again, won’t he? Tate thinks the same, although
he’d never admit it. The trouble with schools is that, when you get right down to it, the kids are animals. You can lay down every rule you like but, at a basic level, it’s the law of
the jungle. I think what Ben did was exactly right. Let’s hope the little bastard’s hand goes septic and drops off.’

‘What did you think of the notes?’

‘I think it’s a bloody good job Tate believed Ben. That’s a decent man, actually.’

I don’t know why I didn’t tell him about the website.

Yes I do.


– You can’t do that! You can’t! That’s going the wrong way!

– So?

– Because it’s not in the rules! You can’t just decide to go backwards.

– Marco, put your counter back where it was and throw again.

– Yeah, and he’ll chuck it under the table where we can’t see, and say it was a six, like he did last time. You’re such a cheating git,

– Now, lads.

– Come on, boys. It’s only a game. Marco, throw the die on the table.

– See? See? He’s done it again.

– Six. Fancy that.

– Why can’t we have Club Reps on? They bleep out the swearing.

– Because we agreed it would be nice to have the TV off tonight and spend some time together.

– Like bollocks it would.

– Watch yourself.

– It’s pants, this. I hate board games.

– Do you really think you’ve given it a chance? Do you think you’ve given me a chance?

– Thing is, Juno, they’re too old for this stuff. Let them watch their programme.

– I said they could tape it.

– Oh, go on, switch it on, Chris. Yeah, go on. I’ve had enough of Ludo too. I never liked it as a kid.

– So you’re just walking away.

– Looks like it.

Juno [To camera] –
Do you see what I’m up against?


Ben was on the PlayStation when I went up, killing Rhinocs.

I sat near him and watched for a while until he got clumsy and fell into a volcano. He put the console on the desk and turned round.

‘Did you draw the short straw?’ he asked.

‘How do you mean?’

‘You get to deliver the pep talk.’ He didn’t say it cheekily; his voice sounded tired.

‘Spot on.’

‘OK, then.’ He settled back and looked straight at me. His lovely eyes were Joe’s, mine. ‘Fire away.’ Let’s get it over with, he meant.

I said, ‘Are you in any kind of trouble? Apart from this incident with the bully.’


‘Have you any idea why he targeted you?’

‘Wrong place at the wrong time, that’s all.’

‘What do your friends think?’

‘What of?’

‘Well, the notes.’

Ben shrugged. ‘Not a lot. Shit happens. If it wasn’t me it would be one of them. People are posting weird stuff in lockers all day. You just chuck it in the bin. Usually.’

‘So why did you bite Patrick this time?’

Ben frowned as though he were considering deeply. ‘Don’t know,’ he said at last. ‘Bad day, I guess. He smirked at me and I was like, That’s it, I’ve had
enough. And all I wanted to do was knock him over, but he put up more of a struggle . . . Then the dickhead put his hand actually in my mouth. We were on the floor – I’ve been through
all this with Mr Tate.’


‘You’d have done the same. Dad would, anyway.’ I swallowed, because we were getting nearer to the question I had to ask. ‘Do you understand why it’s so important
for you to keep out of trouble for the next, for the rest of the year?’

‘Yeah. Tate told me that two conduct interviews so close together was major bad news. He goes,
Theoretically it could be expulsion next time
. Although I don’t believe that; I
mean, there are kids loads worse than me.’

‘I shouldn’t bank on it.’ I reached over and stroked his hair. He stiffened slightly, but bore it. ‘Seriously, keep your nose clean. It’s not like you to get hauled
up in front of teachers. You’ve always had good reports.’

‘I’ll try, Mum.’

‘You’re not made for crime.’

He smiled. ‘That’s true. It was something, though, flooring Patrick; you know, a buzz. I can see the appeal of being a sadistic thug.’ He saw my face. ‘Only

But I was scared because I knew what was coming. ‘I have to ask – Ben—’


‘Are you gay?’ The words stuck like needles. My heart was hammering.


‘Because it wouldn’t matter, it would be OK if you were.’

‘Jesus, Mum!’

‘We’d still love you. Nobody would – I wouldn’t—’

‘I’m not.’

‘We wouldn’t get angry with you. But it’s a hard road to travel on your own—’

I’m not!
’ He half-rose from his chair and I wondered for one mad moment whether he was going to hit me.

‘All right, all right,’ I said soothingly. ‘Only, I wanted to ask, because it must be very difficult telling people—’

‘I’m not gay. Now, can you leave it, Mum? Please?’

He swung back round in his chair and started up the game again. There could be no mention of the website this time.


Tom came out to see what I was doing in the flowerbed.

‘Are you more or less ready for your tea?’ he asked, before he spotted my tears. ‘Oh.’

‘I was getting some polys in,’ I sniffed. I needed to wipe my nose but I had soily gloves on. Tom fished in his trouser pocket and pulled a hanky out for me, held it to my nose.


I did as I was told, then ran my forearm across my cheeks.

‘Anything specially the matter?’

I showed him the Early Learning Centre plastic trowel that I’d dug up.

He nodded. ‘There were a load of little cars down the back of the bookcase when I shifted it to do the painting last summer.’

‘You never mentioned it.’

‘No. I didn’t want to upset you.’

BOOK: Queen Mum
5.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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